After Stephen’s death, followers of The Way were scattered all around the region because of persecution and as they went, they proclaimed the gospel. One of those traveling preachers was Philip, who was among the first disciples chosen to minister to the church (Acts 6:1-6). This would be a good place to stop and read Acts 8:1-25.
Philip went to Samaria, preached Christ, and performed miracles of healing and casting out demons. His ministry brought the Samaritans “great Joy” – and a lot of attention (vv. 5-8). Cue a man named Simon who was a very popular sorcerer. He was called “the divine power known as the Great Power” (vv. 9-11). That is until Philip came along and they were introduced to the power of Lord Jesus Christ. The text says that Simon believed and was baptized and began to follow Philip, astonished by the miracles and signs he performed (vv. 12-13).
When word of Philip’s ministry got back to the apostles in Jerusalem Peter and John came to help. They prayed for the new believers to receive the Holy Spirit (v. 15). Simon wanted it – not the Holy Spirit, but the ability to impart the Holy Spirit to others. He saw it as another magic trick that would make him popular in the new community of faith. He offered the apostles money if they could give him this power (v. 18-19). Peter saw right through Simon and rebuked him, declaring that his “heart is not right,” and he was “full of bitterness and captive to sin” (vv. 21-23) and he should repent. We never know if he did.
If everything in the Bible is meant to instruct us (Rom 15:4), what are we to learn from Simon? I believe we are looking at the difference between intellectual faith and saving faith. There is a “faith” that acknowledges the existence of God without trusting in God. James said, “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder” (Jas 2:19). Satan knows all too well that God exists, but he still rebels against Him. So do people. Hebrews 4:2 says that people hear the gospel, but it is “of no value to them, because [they] do not combine it with faith.” This faith is marked by obedience and utter dependence on Christ.
Christian service is not a means to popularity, although some super-pastors have made it their gravy train. Jesus said that those who belong to the world are loved by the world, but those who belong to Him are hated by the world (Jn 15:18-21). I believe Simon’s faith was not saving faith. Sadly, I believe the same could be said for many who claim to be Christians. This is too important to gloss over. Beloved, how’s your faith?